Matt Ludwig’s Olympics journey lasted about two days.
It began in Akron, Ohio with a phone call on Wednesday night. It ended on the pole vault mat in Olympic Stadium Tokyo on Friday morning.
In between Ludwig, vaulting poles in tow, embarked on a head-spinning trip halfway around the world to make it to the Olympic Games.
“Life sort of flipped upside down in a good way,” Ludwig told The Washington Post. “I would never have expected a call probably 36 hours before competition that says, ‘Hey, you need to get across the world right now.’ But I couldn’t be more grateful or excited for the opportunity to do that.”
Ludwig finished fourth in the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials and was named an alternate to the America pole vault team. On Wednesday, he was packing boxes to move out of his apartment at the University of Akron, where he is a volunteer coach, when the phone rang.
Sam Kendricks, Ludwig was told, the top U.S. pole vaulter and a gold-medal favorite in Tokyo, had tested positive for COVID-19 and was out of the Games. He had eight hours to pack and catch plane.
Ludwig arrived in Tokyo at 4 p.m. on Friday. He grabbed a snack, a little sleep, got a uniform just before getting on the team bus for the competition that began around 10 a.m. Saturday.
He cleared two runs at 5.5 meters, but missed his three tries at 5.65. meters. And just like that. Ludwig’s Games were over.
But no matter. Under the circumstances, Ludwig’s performance was nothing short of amazing. And he will forever be an Olympian.
"The dude got a 14- or 13-hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo, had six or seven hours of sleep and then got on the runway and jumped two bars,” teammate Chris Nilsen told USA Today’s Tom Schad. “So the respect I have for that man is enormous."